Food, music, prayers and lots of laughter filled The Great Room of Newtown Congregational Church on Saturday, April 28, when the Newtown Ecumenical Workcamp Servants (NEWS) students and chaperones presented their annual fundraising breakfast. The group — 35 students this year, representing Newtown Congregational Church, Newtown United Methodist Church, St Rose of Lima and even a few students who are not affiliated with any formal church, as well as their eight chaperones and an advisory board — raised its largest amount of money during the annual three-hour breakfast event.
More than 200 people attended this year's breakfast, which was one of the largest crowds in the program's 18-year history.
"We had 224 reservations, and at least six people arrived this morning who didn't have a reservation but were able to join us," said Matt Cole, one of the group's chaperones.
Funds raised through this and other events help NEWS cover the costs of each years' trip. This year the group is heading to Monson, Mass., where they will spend the week of July 1–7 repairing homes and doing other projects for those who are still recovering from a tornado last year. The June 2011 tornado only added to the town's woes after the economy had already forced the closure of a quarry and a number of factories that had employed many in Monson.
Through Group Workcamps, the Newtown group will be part of a 440-member team of fellow students and adults from along the East Coast descending on Monson that week. The workcampers will stay at a local high school and will eat meals prepared for them by Group Workcamps staff and each workday, divided into crews of seven, they will work together to repair and rebuild.
For their annual breakfast, Newtown's workcampers invite close friends and family to share in a delicious breakfast coupled with entertainment. The guests are then waited on by their host workcamper.
The cost of each meal is paid for in advance by table sponsors, so the workcampers/wait staff count on their guests to tip generously for their breakfast. These tips are pooled at the end of the breakfast to help cover the cost of transportation, housing, food, and other costs the campers will need to cover before and during their trip.
Table sponsors for last weekend were the Allen family, Berkshire Motors, the Black family, Blue Colony Diner, Dr Joshua Baum Orthodontics, Dental Associates, Excel Tutoring, Ferris Mulch Products, Honan Funeral Home, Lathrop School of Dance, the McDonald family, Newtown United Methodist Men, Park Ridge Animal Hospital, Prudential Realty, P.W. Scott Engineering & Architecture PC, Ricci's Salon, St Rose of Lima Church, the Sullivan family, Taylor Lynn Carpentry, Thomas Allen Photography, Union Savings Bank of Newtown, Urology Associates, and Vasi's Gymnastics.
Breakfast on Saturday was prepared by members of the NCC Men's Club and Knights of Columbus. As guests arrived at the church they were greeted by their servers and quickly served coffee or tea and offered water and orange juice. Plates of pastries were on each table, and each table also featured centerpieces that were perfect for the morning: Mason jars held bouquets of flowers, with each jar anchored with a handful of nails, screws, washers or mulch, tying in perfectly to some of the work the campers will be doing in just a few months.
Father Ignacio Ortigas, a parochial chaplain from St Rose of Lima, offered the opening prayer of the morning. Jay Edwards, a teacher at Newtown High School, returned for emcee duties and did another fabulous job keeping the three-hour program moving smoothly, with plenty of humor thrown in.
After breakfast was served, Carl Lindquist offered music and some of his own workcamp stories. His involvement with the program began in 1998 when, two days after she graduated from high school, older daughter Allison left with that year's group for a week in West Virginia.
"It was Allison's suggestion that I join the committee," he said, "which I did the following year. And then the year after that I went with the group for its trip, along with my younger daughter."
Before handing the microphone over to the next group, Mr Lindquist had everyone in the room get up and greet each other while he sang a song he had written a few years ago about workcamp. Matt the Magnificent then offered bad jokes and hypnotic entertainment, followed later by the presentation of what fourth year workcamper Drew Sullivan introduced as "an unreal reality show, 'Let's Get It Made.'" Musical accompaniment for that skit was provided by singer Emily Crebbin and guitarists Shay DeMarche and Brendan Callery, who dubbed themselves Shay Five.
Ellie Mouchantat and Drew Sullivan also took a few minutes to speak about their workcamp experiences. Both high school students are fourth-year workcampers, the only two in the group this year.
"You all go for the same purpose," Ellie said. "Every year there are 400 people who come together for workcamp, and the biggest part of each week, for me, is to make someone's life a little happier."
Ellie shared a story about a widow named Rose, the woman whose house she helped clean and repair a few years ago, calling her "so appreciative for everything we did."
Drew spoke of Miss Mabel, the first client he met during workcamp four years ago.
"Getting to know your resident, brightening their day and doing good every day, that's why I go back," he said.
A few adults have also made a habit of workcamp. Jerry Cole has done 15 workcamps, "and I'm still looking forward to this one," he said at the end of a skit called "Let's Get It Made."
Next was the raffle drawings — which this year included an iPad 2.
The entertainment was followed by the drawing of winning raffle tickets, which this year included a grand prize of an iPod 2.
Raffle prize contributors were Anthony & Co. Hairstylist, Avancé Esthétiques, Blue Colony Diner, Black Swan, Caraluzzi's, Cave Comics, Club NewFit, Dunkin Donuts of Newtown, Flagpole Radio Café/Newtown Cultural Arts Commission, Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Ferris Acres Creamery, Great Finds & Designs, Hollandia Nursery, Koenig FrameWorks, Kolam, the Mangiafico family, Mexicali Rose, Misty Vale Deli, The Newtown Bee , Newtown Car Wash, The One-Eyed Pig, Papa Al's, Ricci's Salon, Sal e Pepe Restaurant, Sandy Hook Hair Co., The Villa Restaurant, Two Loons Jewelry Company, Villarina Pasta & More, and Z Place For Fitness.
All of this year's workcampers and their chaperones were formally introduced to the room, and then Reverend Matthew Crebbin, the senior pastor of Newtown Congregational Church, offered the closing prayer.